Slavisa Jokanovic was left lamenting familiar failings as Fulham passed up a plausible chance to put more distance between themselves and the Championship relegation zone at Reading this afternoon. The visitors had dominated much of the first half, but two poor defensive errors saw them trail at the break, and a second-half spot-kick from Ross McCormack helped them hang on for a point by the final whistle.
The Serbian head coach could have been forgiven for thinking his side might have kicked on from a bright start that was crowned by Moussa Dembele’s smart finish after Michael Madl had headed McCormack’s corner back across the box. The Scottish striker had already spurned two glorious opportunities in the opening minutes and Fulham’s confidence on the ball was beginning to show. Midfielder Tom Cairney was continuing the fine form he has displayed since Jokanovic’s arrival in late December and he was unfortunate not to extend the visitors’ lead when Ali Al-Habsi juggled with his powerful drive from distance.
But, as has so often been the case since Fulham dropped back into the Championship, a senseless defensive blunder offered the opposition a way back into the match. This time, Fernando Amorebieta ridiculously barged Hal Robson-Kanu in the back with the ball flying over the pair of them. Referee Simon Hooper had little option but to award a penalty, from which Robson-Kanu sent Andy Lonergan the wrong way. Reading had been slower to the ball and sluggish in the opening half an hour, but the momentum of the match changed following their equaliser.
They went ahead just before the break. Ola John, the younger brother of former Fulham forward Collins, galloped into oceans of space down the left and his wonderfully flighted cross gave Welsh international Robson-Kanu the simplest of tasks to slot home from around a yard out. Fulham’s static defenders appealed in vain for an offside flag – but none was coming and Jokanovic would have been well within his rights to have right his side the riot act for squandering such a promising position at half-time.
Robson-Kanu was replaced by Garath McCleary at half-time having picked up a knock, but the Royals’ resurgence was not dimmed in the slightest. They came close to extending their advantage just seconds into the second half. The impressive Oliver Norwood found former Charlton forward Yann Kermorgant and he swivelled and shot in one movement, but his effort flew just wide of Lonergan’s far post. The home side continued to apply pressure to a shaky Fulham rearguard but their ambitions to go and dominate the second period were undermined when Ryan Fredericks found the space to burst into the box before being felled by Jake Cooper. McCormack calmly converted the spot-kick to score his first goal in four games and the game was level again.
The home side, now unbeaten in six and themselves drawing further and further away from the spectre of relegation, responded positively to the goal and could have gone in front less than five minutes later. A flowing move saw Stephen Quinn find space down the Reading left to rifle in an effort that was deflected behind and from the corner, John headed disappointingly over. The lively John brought a smart save out of Lonergan after creeping through the Fulham defence and only the quick reactions of Jazz Richards prevent Kermorgant from snaffling up the rebound.
In five minutes of stoppage time, both teams had opportunities to win it. John was denied by Lonergan’s legs whilst Fulham substitute Alex Kacaniklic slashed a shot harmlessly wide of the near post. Jokanovic cut a disappointed figure at the end of the contest – but, in truth, this was an entertaining draw between two distinctly average sides. Fulham will have to improve greatly in order to challenge promotion chasing Burnley at Craven Cottage on Tuesday night.
READING (4-2-3-1): Al-Habsi; Gunter, Obita, Ferdinand, Cooper; Hector, Norwood; Quinn (Rakels 59), John, Robson-Kanu (McCleary 45); Kermorgant. Subs (not used): Bond, Evans, D. Williams, Piazon, Cox.
GOALS: Robson-Kanu (pen 24, 41).
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Lonergan; Richards, Garbutt, Madl, Amorebieta; Baird, O’Hara (Tunnicliffe 67), Fredericks (Kacaniklic 73), McCormack; Cairney; Dembele. Subs (not used): Lewis, Burn, Hyndman, Smith.
BOOKED: Fredericks, McCormack, Tunnicliffe, Richards.
REFEREE: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).
GOALS: Dembele (8), McCormack (pen 52).